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Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Firestorm

7 February 2019

Fringe World review: Leah Shelton, ‘Bitch on Heat’ ·
The Blue Room, February 6 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

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They come along once in a blue moon. Shows that stop you dead in your tracks.

Neil Watkin’s sordid, poetic, The Year of Magical Wanking in 2012; Bryony Kimming’s daring, beautifully structured Sex Idiot in 2015; Lucy Jane Parkinson’s rambunctious, salty Joan last year.

All of them took no prisoners; all of them cranked up the dial; all of them changed what to expect, what you need to know, and what you must allow.

Now there’s another. Leah Shelton’s Bitch On Heat journeys down roads well travelled in contemporary theatre – female objectification, abuse, mental and physical violence and abandonment – but she does it in a high-octane, warp-speed battlewagon, leaving plenty of roadkill in its wake.

The result is fresh, massively empowering for its female audience and, to put it mildly, thought-provoking for male watchers.

The show is almost entirely physical action and lip-synch (the one line of spoken dialogue, “Shut the fuck up!”, makes shocking sense on a whole pile of levels), and the inventiveness of Shelton’s transitions, from a blow-up sex doll Pandora to a rapine old man (“Women are food”), from a cynical, transactional society dame to an exhausted, dejected and abandoned woman stripped of everything but pride, is incredible.

The great violence in the piece – inflicted and retributive – is stunningly enacted, its energy doesn’t flag for an instant, the clarity of its action, and what its action represents, is beyond impressive.

Shelton is simply magnificent, and her set and costume work is superlatively shocking and amazingly theatrically practical. Much credit is also due to Ursula Martinez (also performing in Perth this month as Perth Festival’s artist-in-residence), who directs this whirlwind of a show with precision, surprise and great humour, and to Kenneth Lyons, whose sound design is perfect.

The songs for the show, apart from their exquisite appropriateness (of course you should hack up your attacker to Cilla Black’s You’re My World, underplayed with fx from the Psycho shower scene, and celebrate your handi/knifi/axi-work with some pole acrobatics to Led Zep’s Immigrant Song; of course you should close the show with Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole), deliver the two things so often infuriatingly missing in most stage shows. They are played LOUD, and, more often than not, complete.

I’ve seen pretty much everything on The Blue Room stages in the last decade; don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience there so totally gobsmacked. This bloody, motherfucking thing will sell out. Hope you get in before it does.

Bitch on Heat plays at the Blue Room until February 9.

Caption: Leah Shelton rams home her message.

Photographer: FenLan Chuang

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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